The cat who terrorized Christmas

Editor & Publisher

While St. Armands Circle celebrated its tree-lighting gala, my family had its own humbling and bizarre tree ritual.

As Christmas approaches, my wife’s eyes take on a maniacal glint. Her children, her husband, the house and the pets are all pawns for helping decorate for the holidays.

This year, the gravy was still warm in the pan after Thanksgiving when my wife was bundling our children to shop for the perfect tree.

Then the evening took a twist.

My son remarked that something was wrong with the dryer.

“It lights up, but nothing happens,” he said.


Channeling Hallmark Husband mode

I immediately assumed the authoritative fix-it-man attitude and entered the laundry room, slouched over the edge of the countertop and dangled my body behind the dryer.

I realized then the evening could go two ways. I could watch YouTube videos, drink a few Coronas and try to morph into a middle aged handyman, or I could go down the Hallmark Channel Husband path and share hot cocoa with the family and we all drive off and buy a tree.

I thought of all of the personas I adopt: editor and publisher, ad salesman, Rafa-wannabe tennis player, Steve the car and dryer mechanic, the literature major, chef Steve, the pretend-I-am-on-tour-and-party-like-a-Van-Halan-or-Guns-n-Roses-band-member Steve and then Alan Alda the sensitive-husband-listener Steve. I never know which one will win out.

I knew in the back of my mind my wife prefers the Hallmark Channel guy to the Corona-drinking handyman.

As I stared at the bed of lint on the floor behind the dryer and felt my body aching in this unnatural position, I had an epiphany. I will simply go to the storage unit where I have an extra clothes dryer and put it on the utility trailer and we can

then head to Lowe’s for a tree and I will deal with this dryer another day I reasoned. I am going the “Hallmark Channel” husband route I said to myself.


Paint it Black

It all went as planned. My wife and I caravanned. She took two of the children and one rode with me.

We drank cocoa and the evening was crisp and fall-like with the help of the air conditioning. I attached the trailer to the back of my Land Cruiser.

Let me tell you about my obsession with my 1994 Land Cruiser. I have maintained and restored the vehicle meticulously — painted it black, new carpets and added all kinds of accessories and equipment. It has hundreds of thousands of miles, but I am prone to quote articles about it being the most capable 4-wheel drive vehicle ever built and they are used in the mining industry in Africa and on and on. It is an obsession that absolutely nobody cares about except the occasional stranger at the Shell station who will inevitably ask, “What year is your truck and how many miles does it have?”  Then they grunt in affirmation and we part ways.


A Day in the Life…

As I drive with my 14-year-old daughter, I torture her with hippie and idealistic songs from John Lennon such as “A Day in the Life” and “Strawberry Fields” and then Bob Dylan’s “Tangled up in Blue” and then a few early U2 numbers.

She is polite and says they are tolerable. I reason to myself that I am enriching her musical soul. These songs are like the Beethoven of pop music I may have actually said. I think to myself she will some day rediscover these songs and remember the evening she and her father drove through the crisp night to get a Christmas tree.

I then tell her this one song, “Pride in the Name of Love” by U2, is about Dr. Martin Luther King. The song drones over and over “What more in the name of Love?” as Bono shouts against a wall of guitar.

I am driving north on Cattleman Road to Lowe’s and then a sound like a scud missile hitting the Land Cruiser shatters the entire mood. I look in the rear-view mirror and see the trailer has come off and at 50 miles per hour is held only by the steel safety chain and is bouncing full force against the back of the truck’s lift gate over and over.

Bono keeps singing “What more in the name of Love?” and then wham, the trailer smashes again. Bono yells and the trailer smashes my truck apart in perfect sync. They are taking turns on Cattleman Road.

I hit the brakes hard and the trailer smashes through the rear window. The window explodes into millions of tiny fragments of glass. It was as if the night sky and stars shattered into the inside of my truck and all that was left was darkness.

My daughter is scared and crouching on her seat as I pull the truck over. I was sad to see her expression. I assure her and run to the back and the truck has several holes punched through the metal rear lift gate. The window is gone and the trailer is kicked high in the air. I leave the trailer in the SCAT parking lot on the side of the road for later.

I blame it all on Bono. That pretentious horse’s ass I think. Or is the horse me? I wonder.


From classic to old beater

The old trailer had worn away its hitch I realize and I drove home defeated and tired like the old clothes dryer that would not spin. I could smell the fumes from my ancient truck wafting through the rear window. The Land Cruiser went from beloved restored classic to old beater in one evening.

Out of sheer commitment to the tree buying and perhaps to salvage the evening, we all drove to Lowe’s in my wife’s SUV. The bad luck continued.

In the tree tent there was a fatigued looking employee who had endured a war of customers all day. Only about four dried up trees remained and they were misshapen and had needles cascading to the unswept floor. The tree man then advised us an entire truckload was coming that night and we should come back for a fresh one.

The next morning, I woke early and like a surgeon plucked millions of shards of glass from the interior of the vehicle. Over the next two days I drove to various junkyards as men reeking of marijuana took the parts I needed off of retired vehicles.

I felt like Sisyphus. All I wanted was a tree and some cocoa and yet life would not bring them my way. First, a broken dryer, then a busted up truck and trailer and then a barren tree lot. There was still no tree in our living room.

Finally my wife and I regrouped and resumed our tree-purchasing quest.  We reasoned we should take my truck since with all the damage it will not matter if the tree scratches it up a little. It was truly becoming the old beater day by day. We drove off without a trailer and with something I never wanted in my life — a piece of plastic tarp duct-taped where there was once a rear window.


A little off-kilter

Lowe’s was a perfect juxtaposition.

The temperature outside was warm and pleasant but inside the tree tent it felt like a thicket of pine trees high in the mountains of Colorado, Vermont or maybe the Pacific Northwest. Seven-foot, eight-foot, 10-foot and 14-foot trees swirled around us.

It was then that I realized how it must be the tree growers who benefit most from the region’s trend for 25-foot ceilings.

My wife yelled out to the tree grappler, “Hey, do you have any 14 to16 foot trees?”

I was never so happy to contribute to deforestization. The tree was perfect — conical, fragrant and it landed on top of my Land Cruiser like Jaws on the back of a boat.

When we got home, I rolled the tree off the truck and ripped apart my duct taped window in the process. I was careful not to hurt my back or my tennis arm or any body part I might need. I find that middle age is the end of lifting things without injury.

I dragged the massive tree into the living room. Our stand could barely hold the monster. It swayed and lurched and was a little off-kilter in the stand.

That’s when I tried to convince my wife that all real trees lean a little when you stand them up.

“You don’t want it to be perfect. It’s not a factory-made, plastic looking thing,” I said.

“I’m just worried it will fall down,” she replied.

“Once we fill the base with water it will have enough ballast,” I said.

I was so happy to have this mammoth tree in our home. It felt like victory. Even with the damaged truck, the broken dryer and useless trailer, I thought we have the most incredible family. My wife and children spent the next hour decorating the tree. My wife simply looked beautiful and glowing, the children so alive and excited. I felt like Lou Gehrig in his speech about being the luckiest man in the world.

As I had these thoughts, I filled the base with several gallons of water. I noticed the tree did rock a little as I crawled under it with the milk jug of water, but like a good ship it righted itself. As I filled the jug again I saw our cat, Mickey, lapping up the water out of the tree stand.


Define normal…

Looking back, I should have listened to my wife when she questioned the tree’s stability. I told her it is normal for a natural tree to lean a little.

I should have also seen it as foreshadowing when Mickey, our trouble-making cat, drank the funky water from the base of the Christmas tree stand. Mickey then started swatting at the tree bulbs and pawing the tree. I chased him away and he ran and meowed at me and the tree.

“Don’t let him climb the tree,” my wife intoned.

Before heading upstairs to sleep, I took a final glance at the tree and its glass and mirrored ornaments. They reflected the shimmering lights and cast reflections across the room and ceiling. I turned off the lights and went to bed.

Later that night, I awoke to the sound of a crash and simultaneously the smashing sound of ornaments shattering on the stone floor. It sounded almost as loud as the trailer whacking the truck. Then I heard a loud meeooww.

The whole house woke. We saw broken blue and silver and red-mirrored glass spread over a 200 square-foot area. I saw the stand attached to the base midway in the air dripping into a pool of water.

With children crying, my wife with a wry smile asked me if it’s also “normal” for trees to fall down the very first night I put them up.


Just like chicken

I knew that Mickey had scaled the tree like a leopard in the jungle only to have the ride of his life to the ground. We were all upset with the cat. Mickey happens to be the least likely animal to use the litter box and his popularity rises and falls on any given day with my wife.

Safe to say the next morning I was at Lowe’s buying a stand designed to support a sequoia tree. I also shopped around to replace the estimated $150 in bulb and ornament losses.

My wife says she is over the trauma of watching her tree fall and decorations smashed on the tile.  I found the whole incident emotionally like watching the Twin Towers crash to the ground, but with a happy ending.  At least our family seems satisfied with the tree standing firm and proud reaching toward the peak of the ceiling.

For my part, I managed to fix the dryer and my truck has been mended.

Oddly enough, though, I haven’t seen the cat around the house for a week. I looked for it high and low and walked the neighborhood — I simply cannot find the cat.

After a long afternoon looking for Mickey, I came home hungry and a little dejected. I heard U2 and that idiot Bono once again in my head.

“I cannot find Mickey anywhere,” I told my wife.

She smiled and took out of the oven a pan of enchiladas that tasted just like chicken. I thanked her and she kissed me and said, “What more in the name of Love?”    

Merry Christmas! and Happy New Year!

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